In the 114-year history of the Arizona Wildcats’ football program, 30 times previously have they finished with a losing record.
Five of those years, the Arizona Wildcats have overcome their deficiencies to upend the Sun Devils.
This will be season No. 31 with the Wildcats finishing with a losing record. They are at 2-9 overall heading into Friday’s Territorial Cup meeting (was going to write “showdown” but that does not apply with both teams on long losing streaks). The game at Arizona Stadium at 7:30 p.m. is a last opportunity for Arizona to end the season with a better feel of itself after losing eight consecutive Pac-12 games to this point.
ASU comes in at 5-6 overall with a five-game losing streak in the conference. The Sun Devils opened as 6-point favorites but are now at 3 over the Wildcats. That forecast does not seem as bleak as four of the five times Arizona managed to overcome the odds to salvage its season with a victory over its rivals.
Good news for Arizona heading into Friday night’s game: Three of the most unlikely wins against ASU when the Wildcats finished with a losing record have occurred in the last 15 years after they were 2-21 with an 18-game losing streak in that scenario dating to 1931. They are also 3-2 when both teams finish with losing records. With a loss, ASU would finish 5-7.
Bad news for the Wildcats: They are 5-25 (winning only 16.7 percent of the time) against ASU when they finish with a losing record.
The following is a ranking of the five times Arizona has defeated the Sun Devils in a season in which the Wildcats finished with a losing record.
5. Arizona (4-5-1) beats ASU (4-5-1) 35-0 in 1953
This loss in front of the home crowd was the beginning of the end for Sun Devil coach Clyde Smith, who was forced out the following season. Arizona broke a four-game losing streak to its rivals with the win. Warren Woodson, in his second season at Arizona in 1953, was in the honeymoon phase before he was fired three years later. The Arizona Republic quoted administrators from Arizona State College — as it was referred to then — as being supportive of Smith early in their reports after the loss. That’s a sure sign of trouble.
The running combination of Ken Cardella and Don Beasley awoke Arizona from its doldrums (it was 0-2-1 in its previous three games that season). Arizona rushed for 491 net yards with Cardella gaining 200 yards on 31 carries and Beasley rushing for 193 yards on 21 carries. Cardella also had a 71-yard punt return that set up one of Beasley’s four rushing scores.
After a difficult season, Arizona finished with a laugh at ASC’s expense, literally. Sun Devil center Nick Maucieri tore his pants while on the field in the third quarter. A group of ASC players had to form a ring around him while he changed.
4. Arizona (5-6) beats ASU (4-7) 34-21 in 2001
Although both teams entered with 4-6 records overall and 1-6 in the Pac-10 (at the time), Arizona was still a 7.5-point underdog in the game at Tempe. The season was John Mackovic’s first of a failed three-year tenure at Arizona. Entering the game, the Wildcats lost 18 straight (dating to the 1953 win) against ASU in seasons in which they finished with a losing record.
Arizona running back Clarence Farmer rushed for 158 yards on 32 carries and receiver Bobby Wade achieved career-highs with 11 receptions for 157 yards. Farmer and some of the Wildcats stomped on the Sparky the Sun Devil logo at midfield after the game, causing a bit of a melee with ASU players.
“This is just an indication of what the real Wildcats can do,” Farmer said of the victory to the Arizona Daily Star. “Any time you beat ASU, that’s good forecast for next year.”
Arizona finished 4-8 the following year, however, as second-year ASU coach Dirk Koetter (now the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) gained revenge on Mackovic with a 34-20 win in Tucson.
3. Arizona (4-5) beats ASU (4-3-1) 20-6 in 1932
The Arizona Republic report of the game started this way: “The Tempe Bulldogs, conference football champions, were knocked off their throne in the local stadium last night by a gallant Arizona team.” In the previous season, Arizona lost for the first time since 1899 to the Tempe school. A.W. “Gus” Farwick’s team wasn’t given much of a chance against the Bulldogs in Tempe, but his defense came to play.
Farwick, who coached only one season before leaving on a military assignment, tried trickery early with a 17-yard halfback pass from Clarence “Bud” Sample to Jason “Red” Greer that put Arizona up 7-6 right before halftime.
Quarterback William Davies, Arizona’s captain, gave the Wildcats a 14-6 lead in the third quarter with a 15-yard run. The last score came on an 8-yard run by Howard Abbott in the fourth quarter.
Arizona played Tempe in midseason and lost three of its last four games. The Bulldogs won three of their last four games.
2. Arizona (4-8) beats ASU (6-7) 31-27 in 2011
ASU was favored by 10.5 points over the hapless Wildcats, who were playing under interim coach Tim Kish with a 2-8 record after Mike Stoops was fired in the middle of that season. The host Sun Devils were still hopeful of a Pac-12 South title with a 6-4 record overall and 4-3 in the Pac-12 entering the game. The loss was one of five consecutive for ASU to finish the season, which forced Dennis Erickson to be fired.
ASU led 27-17 with 12 minutes left, but the Sun Devils collapsed with their defensive effort. Nick Foles led the Wildcats on a 94-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Gino Crump, who broke four tackles on the play, bringing Arizona to within 27-24 with 10 minutes left.
After ASU failed to get a first down, Arizona took over at its 34. It took the Wildcats five plays to reach the end zone, and without their quarterback. Foles, who exited with an apparent hip injury, was replaced by career back-up Bryson Beirne. On 3rd down from the 24, Beirne hit Juron Criner, who broke a tackle and raced 24 yards to put Arizona up 31-27.
ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler threw an interception, his second, on the Sun Devils’ next possession. After an Arizona punt, the Sun Devils had one last chance with just over a minute to play, but their final drive came up short, ending with an incomplete pass in the end zone.
“Five years and I get a chance to beat ASU my senior year in Phoenix on their field,” Bierne said. “You can’t ask for something like that.”
1. Arizona (3-8) beats ASU (9-3) 34-27 in 2004
The most unlikely victory by downtrodden Arizona teams with losing records against ASU occurred in Mike Stoops’ first season in 2004 when the Wildcats entered the game at Arizona Stadium as 14-point underdogs against 18th-ranked Sun Devils.
Stoops took offense to comments made by Koetter during the week, and he used the words to motivate his players for the upset win.
“There was a quote by coach Koetter that the teams would show their true colors as the game wore on. I read that today in the paper,” Stoops said. “I think we showed our true colors today. As the game wore on we kept playing more confidently and played well up until the end.”
The Wildcats had lost eight of nine games and were coming of a 49-7 drubbing by No. 1 USC in Los Angeles.
Koetter also had said there is no rule that rivalry games have to be played close, and if “you’re four touchdowns better, you can play four touchdowns better.”
That’s not how it played out.
Arizona’s defense figured the high-scoring Sun Devils would move the ball, but the Wildcats were counting on stopping ASU in the red zone. Four times ASU was inside the 10, but it came away with only three points. The Wildcats forced three fumbles and picked off a pair of Andrew Walter passes.
“(ASU) didn’t know where we were or where we were coming from,” Arizona safety Darrell Brooks told the Tucson Citizen. “They were overwhelmed, and that is exactly what we wanted.”
ASU gained 504 total yards but failed three times inside the 20, while the Wildcats were 3 for 3 in the red zone. Arizona quarterback Richard Kovalcheck, a 6-2, 215-pound redshirt freshman from San Diego, enjoyed his finest game as a Wildcat. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns. His winning pass went to Mike Jefferson with 9:32 left in the game and covered 47 yards.
Arizona’s seniors beat the Sun Devils for the first time in Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats lost to ASU in Tucson in 2000 and 2002.
ARIZONA WITH LOSING RECORD VS. ASU
*Game in Tucson
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.